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Louisiana’s self-defense and justifiable homicide laws

Self-defense is a viable argument for Louisiana defendants charged with taking the life of another person. Homicide charges refer to alleged crimes associated with any killing. State laws say violence or killing may be warranted, when a person truly believes a personal attack, an attack on someone else or a felony will result in severe bodily harm or death.

So-called stand your ground laws differ from state to state. Some state laws require a person to attempt to retreat before a violent response is justified. The retreat requirement is not included in Louisiana laws – and explicitly may not be considered by a court -- when individuals are threatened inside their own vehicles, homes or places of business.

Self-defense is appropriate when a person under attack has legitimate fears about an intruder's motives. Courts presume individuals have a "reasonable belief" they will be severely harmed or killed during a break-in or attempted break-in. Justifiable homicide cases involve killings due to threats to the lives of individuals or others and during the prevention of a violent felony.

A court must conclude the defendant's response was necessary to prevent great harm, to stop entry to a property or to force an attacker or burglar to leave. An aggressor doctrine prevents injured attackers or burglars from countering with a self-defense claim unless evidence indicates the aggressor was injured after purposely and clearly backing out of a conflict.

Homicide is not justifiable, when a killing takes place while the parties are engaged in an illegal drug transaction.

Some words in these laws, like "reasonable" and "necessary," can seem ambiguous to defendants. Can you really expect someone to act reasonably in situations that involve violence?

Criminal defense attorneys understand what those terms mean to prosecutors, judges and juries. Remember -- presumptions are built into the laws to support the actions of people who try to protect themselves, others and property.

Source: Louisiana State Legislature, "RS 14:20" Dec. 15, 2014

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